Dear Ms Rowling,
I first read your work when I was 12. My aunt gifted me the first four Harry Potter books on my birthday and by the time the guests left, I had already finished half of the first book.
It wasn’t the greatest book I had ever read. But Harry Potter was a phenomenon of my childhood. Suddenly, reading was cool. Kids who had made fun of me for frequenting the library stopped me in the school hallways to discuss the series. We assigned ourselves characters based on the books. We waited eagerly for the next installment.
Then you wrote the fifth book.
It was as if our world collapsed. Our Harry Potter bubble burst. For the first time, there were debates on whether we liked the book. We still read the last three books and watched the movies faithfully, but something was missing. The magic was gone.
And now, with my generation fumbling through our 20s, you decided to write for us again. And I was worried. Worried that you would fail. That it would be a unmitigated disaster (like the seventh Harry Potter book). The dreadful yellow-and-red cover only strengthened my fears.
I read every interview, analysis, preview, criticism and opinion pieces about you and The Casual Vacancy feverishly, trying to read between the lines. Was it good? Was it terrible? The columnists maintained a cool, calculated silence. My anxiety reached new levels.
Then I got the book. I spent a day swallowing it whole. And you know what? I liked it a lot more than I expected to.
It starts off slow, but it sucked me in gradually.
The characters came alive on the pages. I thought that I would spend all the time comparing this book with the
Harry Potter series, but that’s not what happened. The story made me forget that it was you, the creator of a magical world and a worldwide craze, that had written the book. It is impressive that you have managed to shake off the hangover of Harry Potter so completely. The bleakness, the crude language, the fragile, faulty people inhabiting this new world of yours are as captivating as the boy wonder and his friends, but in a whole different way.
Sure, there are parts where the writing dragged a little. The melodramatic end was touching, but a little contrived. You still have the tendency to heap all the miseries of the world on one character. And a fondness for long-winded sentences. Your token gay and ethnic characters sometimes seem like caricatures, but unfortunately they probably ring true against the backdrop of an all-white, small English village. However, did it all have to be so bleak? Everyone is horrible and mean and not funny all the time, and that gets a little tiring.
But you’ve managed to make Pagford as intriguing a place as Hogwarts, even without the whistles and bangs of magic and supernatural happenings. After allowing us to dream about a fantasy land where magic rules, you brought us back to earth with your take on the sharp, jagged realities of poverty and small town prejudices. The characters may not be casting spells in the book, but there’s some real magic in The Casual Vacancy.
So welcome back to my good books, Ms Rowling.
P.S. I still wish you had picked a better cover.
Name: The Casual Vacancy
Author: JK Rowling
Publisher: Hachette India